Longing for Gray


I raise money for a living.  I work at a large YMCA in the development office.  Currently we are working on a $117,000,000 campaign which will allows us to build five new YMCAs, renovate several existing Ys and camps, send tens of thousands of children to programs who otherwise could not afford to attend and grow our endowment.  Most people don’t like to ask folks for money.  I got over that about a decade ago.  I just really believe in the work that we do.

I often drive prospective donors around in my car to take them to programs or show them construction sites.  I drive a 2007 Acura MDX.  It’s a nice car that I’ve kept well maintained.  But it is old.  Each time I have an appointment, I try to remember to tidy up my vehicle wanting to make a good impression.

Recently, I pulled up to our downtown Y facility to pick up a couple I had never met.  They were older, a bit reserved.  I had forgotten to tidy.

I opened the car door for the wife and as she climbed in the back of my car, I noticed a number of tampons, in very colorful wrapping, dispersed across the seat and floor.

I dived in before her explaining my situation: “I am a widower and have three teenage daughters…” who apparently want me to get fired!

It used to be Cherrios I’d find strewn about my vehicle.  My how times change.

I don’t get this.  Do they just grab a handful and dash out of the house as if they’re taking mints from the checkout counter at Denny’s?  What good are they to them in the car floor?  Why not in a backpack or purse?

Why are they packaged in the most vivid colors available?  Neon green, yellow and pink.  You can’t miss them.  They glow in the dark.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked to hold a stash in my pocket at an event.  I’ve reached for my keys before and had a tampon explosion – dropping them on the floor and having to scurry around to clean up my mess.  At least they’re easy to find.



I wish women had pockets.  I wish cars had built in hygiene storage compartments.  I wish tampons came in plain, gray packages.

The Gut

A dear friend of mine just resigned from the YMCA where we have worked together for thirty years.  She got an awesome opportunity to work with a former co-worker at the Y in Richmond.  Her kids are both in college, and it just seemed like a great opportunity for her to start anew.  She basically lived in Raleigh her entire life and most of her career, although in different positions, has been in one organization.  Gutsy move.

Big decisions are daunting for me.  I play out scenario after scenario – what if…

I recently went through a significant one with Michelle on high school choice.  That one was not mine to make, but I did hold some responsibility for coaching.

Stephanie is beginning to ponder colleges.  Another biggie.  Where you go to college will set the compass for the rest of your life:  where you live, your future spouse, your kids – all of those things ride on ONE significant decision.

Through the years, I’ve had opportunities to apply for other jobs similar to my friend.  I’ve considered selling my house and downsizing.  Occasionally I get the bug to pick up and leave the comfort of Raleigh, where I’ve spent the past 33 years, just to try something new.  But my roots are so very deep.

I have another friend who has had job after job.  She has lived in at least four cities in North Carolina, in Minnesota, and Colorado.  She has gone to various higher education institutions to chase her dreams.  And, she has always made new friends and adapted well.

I once saw a movie called Sliding Door.  The movie highlights Helen’s life.  She gets fired from her job and heads to the subway for home.  In one scenario, she catches the train and finds her boyfriend cheating on her in their apartment.  In another scenario, she misses the train and has no idea what he did.  The movie follows these two parallel lives.  And the outcome at the end is remarkably different, simply because of one train ride.

I suppose the lesson here is that any decision we make, big or small, can drastically change the course of our lives.  Lisa’s sister met her husband at a bar one night years ago.  Had she stayed at home to watch Grey’s Anatomy, who knows?

I asked my friend how she decided to make the move – what pushed her to jump.  Her reply?  “My gut.”

She simply felt it was the right thing to do at the right time.

Although I’m not happy with her for leaving, I’m pretty sure she’s made the right decision.  A little prayer and the following of your “gut” can lead you to some pretty incredible things.



An Ode to Nowak


Roses are red,

Homework is a bore,

Why do my kids wait to put the massive poetry project together

 the night before?


She knew it was coming,

and I did too.

Her sisters made the same mistake,

The night ends with boo – hoo.


Due in three weeks,

 she wrote hard for the first.

Then set it aside,

Oh Lord, we’ll be cursed.


I got back to the house

at 10 PM from a meeting,

the project was due in 10 hours,

was even too late for some cheating.


She wrote haiku, a couplet,

free verse and a sonnet,

Dad, get the glue out and the hole punch,

Although late, I was on it!


The writing was easy,

Putting it together was not.

A nice binder, and drawings,

The presentation, a lot.


With colored pencils, and crayons

And glue and some tape,

She worked and she worked,

Michelle was up really late.


And me, well I watched.

I coached from the side,

And picked up little round papers

from the hole punch til I thought I would die.


This is my last child

to learn from Mr. Nowak.

He has motivated my daughters

And taught them Shakespearean clack.



Secret Service Dad


We bought our house in 1994, about 7 months after we got married.  It was built in 1955 and had, for the most part, been updated since.

After we moved in, my grandmother gave us $1,000 to help with home improvements.  My mom strongly suggested we immediately invest in a home alarm system, because she thinks that most criminals are aggressively targeting our family at all times.

I pondered my options – toilets that would flush or alarm; air conditioner that would pump out cool air or alarm.  Because of the intense crime rate in my neighborhood in the heart of North Carolina, I went with alarm.

I have been pleased with it over the past 20 years.  It does give me comfort, most of the time.

Last Wednesday night, it did not.  It went off at 3:23 AM and scared the &%$# out of me.

It blared for about 15 seconds, went off, and then blared again.  How odd.

I had forgotten how dark it is at 3:23 in the morning.  Like, imagine being blindfolded in the closet under your mother’s long dresses.  That’s how dark it is.

I lay in the bed for a minute or two listening for the guys who were about to murder me.  Sadly, I didn’t really think about Stephanie who was alone, upstairs, in her bedroom.

These were clearly quiet burglars, perhaps in socks.  I couldn’t hear a peep.

I remembered Lisa sharing stories of her father slowly climbing the stairs of their home when she was a kid about ready for bed.  She would call out, “Dad, I know you’re there!”  She said it felt like hours before he would jump into her room for a surprise tickle attack.  I waited with the same anticipation.

I finally mustered the courage to walk to the kitchen.  I looked around my room for weapons that could assist in my defense.  I had a lamp that could have acted as a tire iron for whooping up on the enemy, but damn, it was a lot of trouble to unplug.  The biggest book on my nightstand was Josephus Daniels, his Life & Times.  I’ve been trying to read the 600 pager for three months to no avail.  Perhaps this would make good use of my investment.  I had a hand bell that the kids used when they were young to get my attention when they were at home, sick in bed.  Perhaps I could stun his hearing, confusing him while I grabbed my child and ran out the front door.

Finally, I decided I’d rely on my massive strength.  I have been working out for years.  Although I’ve never punched anyone before, there was certainly pent up force in my massive arms.

I called the alarm company asking if they had received a signal.  They had not.  I asked the lady on the phone if she would come over and sleep with me.  That apparently is not included in my annual contract.

“How much would it cost to add that service,” I inquired.

“More than you can afford.”

She didn’t even sound attractive.  People are less fun in the middle of the night.

I considered taking a large butcher knife with serrated edges back to bed with me but decided the likelihood of me actually having the guts to stab someone, regardless of the situation, was less likely than me rolling over and accidentally cutting out my own spleen.

As I nestled back into my Serta, I remembered I had a child upstairs.  That was a long way from my bedroom, and I would have to go through several dark rooms to check on her.  Certainly she was alright.

My parental guilt sank in – I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t make sure she was OK.  I grabbed Josephus and put my bedroom shoes back on.

When I got to her room, she was sitting up in bed.  She had her phone in her hand and her covers pulled up to her chin.

As humans, we act as if a layer of cotton is a force field that can protect us from anything.

“Stephanie, did you hear the alarm?”

“Yes.  It woke me up.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m checking Instagram.”

So, there is a mad killer potentially on the loose in our house, our alarm goes off, twice.  She hears me stirring in the kitchen and notices that lights are on.  And… she pulls up her covers and checks Instagram.  I guess it would be nice to know if you got 100 likes on the last picture you posted before you are bludgeoned to death.  OH.  More likes than Sarah Kate!  I’m ready to die.

“How is checking Insta helping in this situation?  I have 911 dialed on my phone and my finger poised over the call button.  What are you doing to support?“

“I just assumed you had things under control.”

It is scary to me that my children think I have it ALL taken care of.  They put a lot of confidence in this aging, 175-pound, powerhouse of a man.  I’m like the Daddy Secret Service.

If they only knew: I AM PETRIFIED, most of the time, on many, many levels.


The Return of the DJ

IMG_0038 (3)

DJ in the house!

DJ has returned!  The eldest, the heir to the throne, is home.

A friend who has a son who is a junior in college told me to get ready.  He said his wife was recently walking around the house with a basket full of toilet paper rolls.

“What are you doing honey?”

“I’m hiding the toilet paper.”


“Douglas is coming home for Thanksgiving.”

“Yeah.  I’m aware of that.”

“You know what he does don’t you?”


“Throughout the week he steals our toilet paper and puts it in his car so he doesn’t have to buy it when he returns to school.”


I was ready.  I counted my rolls.  I don’t think DJ is a Charmin swindler.  When she left we still had a nice stash.

She has, however, left every garment she brought back to the State of North Carolina in my den.  Shoes on the kitchen bar stools, coats, and there were several, on the floor by the back door, a bra in the bathroom.  Within 24 hours her bedroom looked like it had been hit by a category 4 storm.  Just like high school!

How does this child live in a 13’ x 13’ room with three other people?

On Tuesday she told me that I could expect my credit card bill to be a bit higher this month.

“Dad, have you noticed I really don’t use your credit card at school?  Just like you asked!”

“You have done a good job of keeping your expenses down.”

“Yea, and I have $290 left on my GW card to get me through the next three weeks.  Tons more than any of my other friends!”

“Live it up!”

“But since I’m back home, I figured you’d be OK with me charging my expenses this week.  I’ve sort of eaten out a couple of times with friends, purchased a few Christmas presents, oh, and I’m getting my nails done tomorrow – on you!  Thanks.”

We have eaten at her favorite restaurants, watched her favorite movies On Demand, cooked the meals she likes the best and shopped for clothes that she desperately has to have.

“Dad, I’m gonna need shoes for my winter formal.  You might as well buy them now.  These are on sale.”

Apparently the last four pairs I purchased for the four high school winter formals just won’t do even though her foot stopped growing in eighth grade.

Frankly, I don’t know how she has survived this long without the critical articles of clothing we purchased this week.  Bless her heart.

On Thanksgiving Day, it became grossly apparent to me how children fall back into their high school behaviors as my 78 year old parents worked their butts off in the kitchen while my brother sat in the den watching TV.  The gall.  Oh, and he wouldn’t even pass me the remote!

What goes around comes around.

Sunday Post 189: Home-bound Communion

I’m about to finish my second term as an elder at my church.  The first time around I didn’t take advantage of one of the main privileges of serving.  This time, with a little twist of the arm, I discovered one of the most rewarding parts of being a leader at First Presbyterian:  Home-bound Communion.

Two elders get The Body of Christ “to go.”  It’s in a little leather box.  We meet in the church parking lot at 2:00 and head out to some elderly person’s house.  You never know exactly what you’re going to find.

This past week, my partner and I made two stops.

The first was at the home of an older gentleman who had worked for the City of Raleigh for many years.  I was warned that he sometimes doesn’t wear all of his clothes.  Me neither; no big deal.

We actually had to crack his front door and yell out to get his attention.  He was appropriately dressed but confined to a wheelchair, living in  his wooden ranch alone.  His wife died many years ago.  We swapped war stories.

I said that it was hard to press on without your spouse.  He explained to me that she was still there, just in a different sort of way.  He said when he procrastinated or didn’t do what he was supposed to do, he sort of felt a gnawing.  “That’s her.”

We laughed that they would be up there waiting for us at heaven’s door with a great big To Do list.

After chatting, we pulled out the bread and juice.  We had fancy, tiny, silver trays for serving, but we could have used a Dixie cup.  The scripture, prayer and act of breaking bread, knowing the symbolism, was what was important.

We then hit a nursing home for dementia patients.  I’ll have to admit it was a bit disturbing to walk in.  The door shut and locked behind us.  We couldn’t get out on our own accord.  I felt a bit claustrophobic.

We walked down the hall to room 125 where we met two beautiful women.  One was from our church, the other was her roommate, an Episcopal.  They argued a bit about whether the different denominations could take communion together.  They played off of each other well, seemingly enjoying each other’s company.  Sparring a bit seemed natural for them.

One asked me how old I was.  When I told her 49, she said I had preserved myself well.  They asked about our families and were interested in our kids.  One asked if I was dating.  I don’t think she was fishing for herself!  She was just genuinely concerned about my happiness.  She had buried two husbands, one when she still had four kids in the house.  We had a lot in common.

You’d think it would be them who received the blessing that day.  Certainly having visitors would brighten their day.  Certainly knowing that their church family still thought of them and loved them would bring good cheer.  And perhaps it did.

But what I learned to expect after the first time I filled this role was that they weren’t the recipients that day.  No, it was me.  I was the one who left feeling better.  I saw people in what seemed to be really difficult situations laughing, showing love and appreciation, and sharing wisdom.  They were asking about me.  Wasn’t I the one who was supposed to be doing that?

Apparently they didn’t get the memo.  Instead of taking, they doled out.  Perhaps that is wisdom, something we all gain with age.  Or maybe there was just something special about these folks.    It seems that they have figured out that giving is better than receiving.

It’s Raining Tacos

Saturday Afternoon, Tanner House

Daddy and Stephanie, taking some pics:

Dad and Lou 1

dad and Lou 2

Dad and Lou 3

Dad and Lou 4

And my favorite…

Dad and Lou 5

Michelle had a different idea!  It’s Raining Tacos.





Sunday Post 130: The Tried and True

I think this is the 6th year for Adult Weekend at Lake Gaston.  There are four couples and me who diss our kids for about 36 hours just to spend time together.  It’s a bit Big Chillish – minus the funeral.

We typically water and jet ski, tube and surf.  This year, however, we primarily talked; we had a lot of catching up to do.  We don’t see each other like we used to.  Although our kids initially brought us together, they’re all moving in different directions.  It just makes it harder to connect quite as often.

Each lake season seems to bring less watersport and more mouth movement.  Only two fo us tubed this year and after only five minutes, we’d about had enough.

“Jon’s gonna jerk my back out if he doesn’t slow down.”

“He’s clearly trying to kill us.”

At one point four out of the five men were asleep in lawn chairs on the dock.  The women looking on, lamenting their future.

It’s sort of pathetic.

But these friendships run deep.  They aren’t built on frequency of visits nor are they reliant on our children’s schedules or desire to hang out with us.  Nah, we’re past that.

We’re not the same politically; we all go to different churches; our career interests are varied.

Sometimes two or three of us get together without the others, and that’s okay too.  Typically one has run into another and the communicate chain continues.

Our love and connection runs deep. They’re the first ones you call if you have something too big to handle on your own.  You know they’ll come through – even if it’s not Lake Gaston time.

I’m fortunate to have this group – they’ve stood by me through some difficult days.  My hope is that everyone has their go to’s – the tried and true, the ones who’ll stand by you even if it’s not the easy thing to do.

It takes work and commitment to grow these connections, but the payoff is incredible.

Sunday Post 104: A Patchwork of Memories

I lost a dear friend in a car wreck several years before Lisa died.  His young wife was left raising two boys, ages 3 and 3 months at the time.  She’s been a great resource for me over the past few years.

One special thing I saw her do was to turn some of Trey’s clothes into quilts for her boys.  I’ve thought about that for quite some time – what a great way to preserve memories.

It happened that a friend of mine had a cousin who is a quilter.  She hooked the two of us up.

So last winter I split Lisa’s clothes into two piles – the special pieces I wanted to keep, that maybe the girls might want in the future – and those to give away.

The girls went through the give away pile and each chose outfits they really liked or that had special meaning to them.

I tagged each article of clothing with the name of the kid who wanted a swatch of that material in her quilt.  I boxed them all up and shipped them to Boston and the quilter began the quilting.

For Christmas, I wrapped up my recently received blankets and put them under the tree.  They were the last three presents left on Christmas morning.


I wasn’t sure if they’d really get it – if they’d appreciate all that was sewn into this priceless throw.  But they did.  Even Michelle seemed to comprehend the significance of this gift.

Much to my dismay, Lisa loved her flannel pajamas.  She had three pair of hot pink ones.  The quilter took a pocket from each and made it a square of its own.

pj pocket

  Each one also had the letters of Lisa’s sorority, Alpha Delta Pi, and an emblem from St. Timothy’s School – the place where she worked, the place where they had spent so many happy years together.



We walked through each square on all three blankets.  We saw her favorite blue ruffled shirt, the black dress she often wore to church in the winter, and the walking shorts she’d sported with her new Rainbow flip-flops.


Each has a square of the pink silk blouse Lisa wore to fancy events.  I remember the white eyelet shirt I gave her many, many years ago.  And DJs sports the tan linen overalls Lisa was obsessed with in the spring of 2003.  pocket

The blankets will have to be dry cleaned, there are literally thousands of dollars in clothing stitched into these 4′ by 5′ rectangles.  But they were made to be used, not to be folded across the back of a chair.

I imagine my girls wrapping up in their blanket with their own kids on a chilly Christmas Eve – thoughts of their mom and dad prancing through their heads.  I can envision them using it as a protective shield when some slim-ball dude breaks their heart in college.  Maybe it will be a comforting salve when they’re sick, and their dad isn’t around to nurse them back to health.

These special conglomerations of fabric are more than blankets.  They’re a physical representation of Lisa’s love that can be wrapped around them at any needed time or place.

I think we all really need one of these.

The Navigator of the Seas Part 1: The Not So Good

Posted by Danny

Spring Break!!!!  Whoa-Whoa!!!!

Someone once told me that the best way to keep your kids from getting into trouble during spring break is to get them in the habit of taking a great family trip that week.  I’m doing my best!

Last week we headed to Florida for a five night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas.  I’d never been on a cruise before so this was quite an eye opener.  We really had a great time and I’m going to write more later this week.  But there were a few things I could have done without!

I went with some reservations.  I get a little claustrophobic and don’t really like the idea of being somewhere with no escape. 

My fears were realized when I walked into our room.  It was smallish.  And the bathroom – whew.  The shower was so little I had to wash the front of me, back out into the room, turn around and shimmy back in to wash my back side.  I am convinced that some of the passengers were unable to wash themselves on the boat – there just wasn’t a way.

I’m also convinced that one woman, who quickly garnered my attention (and ever other male on board) at the 11th floor pool, had to wash some of her parts individually as well.  She should have considered that before her surgery.

On night four, late in the evening, the boat pretty much turned over.  I didn’t like that. 

 I was in my room and although I did not fall, I turned sideways, back parallel to the door.  A friend was in a store on the Lido deck (I’m not sure of the name of that deck but I learned Lido from the Love Boat and liked saying it) and the sunglasses display toppled over onto the floor.  Apparently several hundred pair.  The women manning the shop began spouting out what must have been cuss words in a foreign tongue.  My friend wasn’t sure if they were torked at the captian or if they were fearful for their lives.

That night I slept with no covers thinking that if water came rushing in, I’d struggle to get the wet blanket off.  If it weren’t for a couple of Tylenol PM, I don’t think I’d have seen sleep the rest of the cruise after that debacle.

The final thing I wasn’t a fan of was the constant rocking.  It was particularly noticeable in bed and in the bathroom.   At night I sort of felt like my mother was rocking me again – a couple of nursery rhymes and I’d have been sucking my thumb.  It made me feel happy inside.  But peeing on board was like trying to take a leak while on a skateboard.  Number 2 wasn’t much better – tough to read a Newsweek in motion.  You didn’t move much in the shower because each side of you was sandwiched by the wall.

I never got sea sick but had to take a break while ice skating on the Promenade Deck (again, not sure of the real name).  Yes, they had an ice skating rink.  And an ice dancing show – which was remarkable considering it was the size of a school multipurpose room.  Imagine a triple sow cow in your den.

I nearly cried as we walked off the ship on Saturday… for two reasons:

1) I decided it would be faster to carry our own lugguage out of the ship.  I toted eight bags down six floor because we couldn’t get an elevator to stop and then they requried you to walk three miles to customs where I declared two $11 neclaces and a pair of pink earrings.

2) We had to drive 12 hours home.